Home > Sports > Athens 2004 > Features
'At Moscow we proved the pundits wrong'
August 06, 2004
Former India hockey captain and coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran shares some of his Olympics experiences with Contributing Special Correspondent Shobha Warrier.
Bhaskaran captained the team at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the last time India won a hockey gold medal.
My first Olympics was Montreal in 1976. I was 24. I had already played in the Asian Games and World Cup, but not in the Olympics, which is the ultimate in every sportsperson's life.
My performance in 1976 was not consistent; there were the usual ups and downs. Moreover, there was lot of competition for my position from plenty of good players. I had to really work hard to get selected. But I was very determined that I should represent my country at the Olympics.
Finally, when the news came that I was selected to play at the Olympics, it was a great moment for me. My father used to tell me that the Olympics should be my ultimate aim, because he could not achieve that.
My father was a pole vaulter. In those days -- I am talking about the early 1950s -- you had to pay 50 percent of the cost of your ticket to go to the Olympics. Like him, so many athletes could not go to the Olympics because of lack of funds. So my father used to tell me at least I should achieve what he could not.
When I was selected to play at the 1976 Games, it was not me but my father who was the happiest. I had read a lot about the Olympics, so when I reached Montreal it was like seeing what I had read earlier. Like about the Olympic motto, the village, the flag, etc. And as I marched in the stadium as a part of the Indian contingent -- I cannot express how I felt -- it was a great moment in my life.
I had read about the march past and seen only pictures of it. There was I, walking with the top athletes of the world! It was like climbing Mount Everest; it was the ultimate.
|I don't want to have the record of captaining the side that won India's last Olympic gold.|
It was sad that we didn't do well in hockey at Montreal. That was the time astroturf had just been introduced. We had a month-long training camp on astroturf in Paris. Though we had a very good team, I feel we were overconfident after having won the World Cup in 1975. We did not qualify for the semi-final and placed seventh. For the first time, India failed to win a medal at the Games. In 1968 and 1972 we won the bronze medal. I felt extremely disappointed and sad.
The support system at Montreal was not good; there was not enough contribution from the team management. The Montreal experience made me think how important coaching is.
I felt the difference when we went to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. I was the captain of the team and was shouldering two responsibilities: taking care of the junior team and also captaining the senior team.
But we had an excellent coach in Balkishen Singh. He was so competitive, communicative and helpful to the players that he became part of the team soon. Later on, and even today, as coach, I practice what I learnt from Balkishen. In those days itself he was very professional in his approach. He was the first man to go to Australia as a coach and was there for many years.
The 1980 team was very young. Most of them were playing in the Olympics for the first time.
With one Olympics behind me, I was the senior-most. With so many young players in the team we had regular meetings. I never acted as if I was the captain, or that the players should respect me. I tried my best to make them relax.
I am of the opinion that a captain should lead by example. When you have an excellent coach like Balkishen Singh to support you, it is but natural that your performance as a team improves tremendously.
We had a great game against Spain in the final. Spain was a very experienced team, with nine Olympians in it, but we beat them.
What should I say about that moment?
I felt I had done something for Indian hockey. When we went to Moscow, people had said the team is too young and it will not win. We proved all the pundits wrong.
Looking back, I feel we succeeded because we played the first game very well. It is very important to win the first game in any series, because that makes you confident and gives you an edge.
Frankly, let me say I don't want to have the record of captaining the side that won India's last Olympic gold medal.
I want somebody to break that record. In fact, I wanted to break that record in the 2000 Olympics, when I was coach of the team, but we drew with Poland, conceding a last minute goal, and finished seventh.
Perhaps the players were not destined to be on the podium. I enjoyed my stint as coach, but we didn't have a proper support system. I had to do all the jobs on my own. Working on the computer, the video, etc were done by me, all alone. Though I enjoyed the work thoroughly, I was very upset after the Olympics.
At Athens, it is very important for India to win the first game on August 15, against The Netherlands. That will determine the team's final position.
Design: Imran Shaikh